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A history of Birr Theatre & Arts Centre (part 1)

Updated: Jul 12, 2023


Patt Grogan is one of the wonderful volunteers that helps Birr Theatre & Arts Centre function smoothly. Without our dedicated team of Front of House volunteers, we couldn’t deliver as good an experience to our audience members. It is our team of volunteers that meet and greet you with a welcoming smile, show you to your seats and answer any and all questions you might have. As a member of the voluntary Front Of House team, Patt is asked frequently about the history of our wonderful building.


By her own account, until 2021/22 her knowledge of the place might have been limited to what everybody knows about this local landmark. But when our local LOETB advertised a certified Local History Course, it gave her the opportunity to dig a bit deeper, do the necessary research and fact-checks to write a mini dissertation about Oxmantown Hall, its history and its eventual transition to Birr Theatre & Arts Centre.


We are grateful for this hard work which culminated in a wonderful story that we will publish here on our blog over the course of the next few weeks.


Oxmantown Hall

The Birth and Rebirth of Birr Theatre and Arts Centre

by

Patricia Grogan


First installment "A community project from the start"

This study sets out to journey the birth and rebirth of Oxmantown Hall. This ornate building situated on Oxmantown Mall remains a pivotal part of the cultural life of Birr. With all things historical, word of mouth tales about the establishment of the theatre, some of which has been printed in historical books, are not accurate.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us that the building was designed by Cassandra, Countess of Rosse and funded by the fourth Earl. This is not the complete story...

The idea of creating a theatre for the locality was formally announced at a meeting in John’s Hall on 10" September 1885, reports the Kings County Chronical. The site on Oxmantown Mall was generously donated by Lawrence, The 4"Earl.

This meeting was convened in order to name the theatre, outline its purpose and elect a fundraising committee. What is interesting to note is that the majority of literature referring to the building states that it was Lawrence Parsons who funded the project, another historic fallacy.

A report in the Kings County Chronicle dated Thursday January 17° 1889 entitled “The New Public Building in Parsonstown”, OxmantownHall, states “about two years ago, be the same moreorless, to use a legal phrase mention was made at an Orange meeting in Parsonstown,ofthe desirability of building a larger structure. Thereupon, the ball was set rolling and kept in vigorous motion until the goal was won. Then a committee was soon got together and it will be seen by their names, that it was made as representative as it was possible to make it on the broadest principles of toleration, as a guarantee that every class can engage in the use of the building for legitimate business”.


The trustees for the birth of the theatre were, the Earl of Rosse and successors, the Rector of the parish and successors, Tutor R Garvey, JP, and successors as agent to Lord Rosse, W.R. Fayle, JP, Joseph Studholme, JP and Thomas Mitchell with R.J. Shepard as secretary. The Chronicle (ibid) also informs us that the cost for establishing the theatre was approximately £1,500 with £700 already been collected. The appointed architect was James Franklin Fuller, with William Sweeney as builder, the article informs us that the limestone needed for its construction was obtained locally from Mr Carroll.


From the £700 already collected, the Chronicle (ibid) states that the highest two contributors were Earl Rosse, £200 and the Rt Rev W.B. Cheater DD Lord Bishop of Killaloe, £100. Donations ranged down to 10 shillings, with donations from bazaars and concerts being assigned to the project.


See you soon for the second installment of our story...

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